NATO ministers to focus on Afghan mission

NATO defense ministers will hold talks with their Afghan counterpart on Friday as the United States urges allies to devote more resources to support the government in Kabul.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said NATO’s 36,000-strong security force and a separate U.S.-led mission had made progress in fighting Taliban insurgents but needed more military and police trainers and reconstruction experts.“In the past four months it is NATO and the coalition that have taken the initiative in Afghanistan,” he said on Thursday, the first day of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers.

“We need to sustain what has been achieved in Afghanistan so far by meeting commitments the allies have made in areas of security assistance and development,” he said in Brussels.

After a day dominated by talk about U.S. plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, ministers from the 26-member organization will meet Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on Friday to discuss the mission in Afghanistan.

The ministers are expected to discuss procedures to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan after a string of incidents which have killed dozens of ordinary Afghans and threatened to erode support for Western troops.

They will also hold talks with non-NATO members contributing to the alliance-led force.

U.S. officials said they see NATO’s performance in Afghanistan as crucial to proving the future relevance of an alliance founded to provide security for Western Europe in the aftermath of World War Two.

Washington would like to see more nations contribute combat troops but with some NATO nations unwilling or unable to provide them, it has pressed those countries to consider sending smaller teams of trainers to embed with local security forces.

“We expect some offers on the table on Friday with more to come subsequently,” a senior NATO diplomat said.

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